Photo courtesy of idahostatesman.com
Offense: The Tar Heels have shown drastic improvement in this category as the season has progressed. With playmakers like running back T.J. Logan and receiver Bug Howard emerging in recent weeks, Carolina has a solid stable of options for sophomore Marquise Williams to distribute the ball to. Obviously, the big news this week was Bryn Renner’s shoulder injury that abruptly ended his Carolina career. It sure will be strange not having the senior leader out on the field for the Tar Heels on Saturday. But this sophomore Williams is a dynamic player that adds much needed wrinkles to Offensive Coordinator Blake Anderson’s offense. Will he take it and run? Will he sling it down the field? He is a perfect fit for the Fedora-style warp-speed playing style. And boy, we haven’t even mentioned that man named Eric Ebron. He leads the team in receiving yards as a tight end. He’s electric. Look out for him on Sundays in the very near future! So, it appears the Tar Heel offense will be humming nicely heading into The South’s Oldest Rivalry on Saturday.
The Virginia Cavaliers remain somewhat of an anomaly on this side of the ball. On film, the Wahoos appear to have all the makings of a strong offensive unit. They feature a fairly solid quarterback who can wing it around the field, a receiver in Darius Jennings who is a reliable target in the end zone, and an all-star running back in Kevin Parks who has gained 696 yards rushing this season and is an absolute bear to bring down. SO why do the Cavaliers rank 104th in the nation in scoring offense? Your guess is about as good as mine. Maybe they put it all together this week against the Tar Heels. But not likely.
Defense: The Tar Heels have suddenly figured out how to tackle. One-on-one tackling seemed an impossible task for the hapless Heels in the first three or four games of the season, but now is a different story. And a lot of this improvement has to go to Coach Vic Koenning’s relentless drive in practice. He says the Tar Heels have been simplifying everything and focusing all their energies on playing with passion and taking down the man in front of them. It appears to be paying off. They’re playing faster by avoiding the ‘paralysis by analysis’. The Carolina defense held Boston College to a mere 10 points last time out in Chapel Hill and rose up to hold the Wolfpack attack to field goals rather than touchdowns in the rivalry win in Raleigh a week ago. If you had to pick out one special player for UNC on defense, you would have to go with senior defensive end Kareem Martin. This guy has stepped up tremendously. Zero Dark Thursday didn’t turn the lights out on Martin. It’s as if the light bulb went off and boom! Here he is. He’s been causing havoc in the back field ever since and raising the level of the entire defense with him. Martin is an outstanding leader to many of the under-classmen on the Tar Heel roster. If they continue to make one-on-one tackles and play with the heart they’ve displayed for the last month or so, a ‘W’ may very well be in the cards for Carolina on Saturday.
As for the Wahoos, it is clear they have considerable size on the line. The defensive linemen are able to exert pressure on many opposing quarterbacks. These Cavaliers will certainly test the youthful offensive linemen of Carolina. However, the secondary has been questionable at times for Head Coach Mike London, especially in the fourth quarters. Virginia is giving up over 30 points per contest. And it seems like the defense is gasping for air by the end of the game-not a good sign heading into the Chapel Hill contest.
Intangibles: This one could be seen both ways I suppose. But it’s a home game for the Tar Heels. Inside Kenan Stadium under Head Coach Larry Fedora, Carolina sports an impressive 8-3 record. What’s more, a raucous crowd on Zero Dark Thursday nearly spurred UNC on to a big upset win against top-ten Miami earlier in 2013. Yes, Chapel Hill is friendly to the Tar Heels. And it’s Homecoming this weekend. Emotions will be flying for many of the players, especially for senior leaders like Kareem Martin and Tre Boston. They will want to put on memorable performances.
On the other hand, UVA has nowhere to go but up following their demolition at the hands of Clemson last weekend. Playing with no pressure is always an added boost. But let’s be honest, how much confidence can a team that has lost six straight really carry into a road contest against a surging squad finally finding their identity?
QUICK PICK: Tar Heels 28, Cavaliers 17